Alan Watts – How do you define yourself?

Alan Watts on how you define yourself as a human being:

“It’s like you took a bottle of ink and you threw it at a wall – smash! And all that ink spread. And in the middle it’s dense, isn’t it? And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread. And you and I sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it – very interesting. But so we define ourselves as being only that. If you think that you are only inside your skin, you define yourself as one very complicated little curlicue, way out on the edge of that explosion – way out in space, and way out in time. Billions of years ago you were a big bang; now you’re a complicated human being. And then we cut ourselves off, and don’t feel that we’re still the big bang. But you are. It depends how you define yourself. You are actually–if this is the way things started, if there was a big bang in the beginning– you’re not something that’s a result of the big bang. You’re not something that is a sort of puppet on the end of the process. You are still the process. You are the big bang, the original force of the universe, coming on as whoever you are. When I meet you, I see not just what you define yourself as–Mr so-and- so, Ms so-and-so, Mrs so-and-so–I see every one of you as the primordial energy of the universe coming on at me in this particular way. I know I’m that, too. But we’ve learned to define ourselves as separate from it. ”

A pretty thought-provoking version of this talk can be found here, courtesy of the Tragedy and Hope Youtube channel:

Alan Watts was an interpreter of eastern philosophies who lived in the twentieth century. He discusses this idea of fundamental interconnectedness in arguably his most famous book: The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are.

If you are interested in this idea, I would suggest reflecting on the thought that: separation does not mean differentiation. Or alternatively: existence is a function of interdependence.

Is black really a separate thing from white? Or up from down? Or yin from yang? Or do we secretly need each of the concepts to understand one another? That is, would I know where left is if there was no such thing as right? Now extend this principle of polar thinking to your whole world. Would I really know who I am, if it wasn’t for you? Would I really know what living is, if there was no such thing as dying?

What are you afraid of?


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